Plant type: Herbaceous perennial or subshrub, depending on the species
Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 to 11 for many; can be grown as annuals anywhere
Tender sages can range in size from knee-high to well over eye level. Some species flower from spring through fall, while others delay their bloom to the very end of the growing season—their spectacular display makes them worth the wait! The bushy clumps produce green, spoon-shaped, lance-shaped, or triangular leaves that are often aromatic.
How to use it: Planted singly or in groups, compact sage species make superb, long-blooming additions to beds, borders, and container plantings. They’re great partners for lavenders (Lavandula spp.), yarrows (Achillea spp.), and other drought-tolerant plants. Taller sages can also grow well in large containers, but they really need the space of a bed or border to show off to best advantage. Even where they’re not winter-hardy, sages make great annual color accents. Enjoy them in the cutting garden, as well.
Culture: Tender sages typically thrive in average, well-drained soil with full sun to light shade; afternoon shade is often ideal in hot climates. Pinch off faded flowers to promote rebloom. Where the plants aren’t hardy, bring potted specimens indoors before frost, or take cuttings in late summer and keep under lights or on a sunny windowsill for the winter. Wait until all danger of frost has passed to set plants outdoors in spring.
Special notes: Sages are practically guaranteed to bring hummingbirds to your garden, and they’re popular with bees and butterflies too! Many are also drought-tolerant.
The sweet, aniseed-flavored leaves grow well from seed in a warm spot or on a windowsill. Try ‘Sweet Genovese’ for the classic Italian herb, ‘Purple Delight’ for dark leaves or ‘Siam Queen’ for a stronger taste.
Easy to grow from seed or by splitting existing clumps in spring, this perennial herb produces grassy leaves with a mild onion flavor. Its pretty purple pompom flowers are a decorative bonus, and are also edible.
Essential for Asian cooking, cilantro is easy to grow from seed. Sow in succession for a continuous supply, since it is prone to bolting. Choose a cultivar, such as ‘Calypso,’ bred for the leaves rather than seeds.
Graceful and airy, fennel comes in green and bronze forms and may reach six feet tall. A handsome perennial, its aniseed-flavored, feathery leaves combine well with both flower and vegetable plantings.
A refreshing perennial with a crisp, clean flavor, mint thrives in moist, shady conditions, which do not suit many other herbs, so keep pots well watered. It is also invasive and best planted on its own.
This herb will thrive in well-drained compost, and appears year after year. Easy to grow and to use in the kitchen, its rounded, yellow-green leaves and low, bushy habit make it ideal for pots or as a border edging.
Masses of tightly curled, bright green, tasty leaves form handsome plants that stay green until winter weather sets in; plants then reappear in spring. Parsley dies after flowering in the second season, so sow every year.
The Italian form of this classic herb is often preferred because it is easier to clean and chop. Easy to grow from seed, place it outside in summer and then bring inside to grow on a windowsill for leaves in winter.
A narrow-leaved evergreen shrub, rosemary is at home in containers and provides welcome structure and winter interest. Its tough, highly aromatic leaves can be picked all year and it has pale blue spring flowers.
Evergreen in all but the hardest winters, both the green and purple forms of this low-growing shrub have strongly scented, downy leaves. Easy to grow in pots, pinch out the shoot tips to keep plants bushy.
Hardy and easy to grow from seed, Russian tarragon has a milder, less refined aniseed flavor than the French type, but is more widely available. Plants grow quickly, so cut back regularly to keep them in check.
There are many types of thyme, with habits ranging from creeping to bushy, with various scents and flavors. They all grow well in free-draining compost and are clothed in small flowers in early summer.
S. coccinea (Texas sage). Upright, bushy, 18- to 36-inch-tall plants with deep green leaves and red, pink, or white flowers from early summer to frost. A hummingbird magnet! Herbaceous perennial in USDA Zones 9 to 11, but usually grown as an annual. May self-sow.
S. farinacea (mealy-cup sage). Dense, well-branched, two-foot-tall clumps of medium-green leaves, with abundant, slender spikes of purple-blue flowers from early summer through fall. 'Victoria' is deep blue; 'Evolution' is purple-blue. Herbaceous perennial in USDA Zones 8 to 11 but usually grown as an annual. May self-sow.
S. greggii (Gregg sage. autumn sage). Typically one to two feet tall with woody stem bases, Gregg sage has small, bright to deep green leaves that can be evergreen or semi-evergreen in mild areas. The bushy clumps bear loose spikes of red, purple, pink, coral, or yellow flowers through the frost-free season. Subshrub or perennial in USDA Zones 7 to 10.
S. guaranitica (Brazilian sage). Upright clumps usually grow four to five feet tall but may reach toeight feet in mild climates. Also known as anise sage, due to the scent of its rich green, heart-shaped leaves. Spikes of large, intensely blue flowers appear from mid- or late summer into fall. Can grow well in partial shade as well as sun. 'Argentine Skies' has light blue blooms, while the flowers of ‘Black and Blue’ are deep blue with near-black bases. Perennial in USDA Zones 7 to 11.
S. involucrata (rosebud sage). Bushy clumps of lightly fuzzy, medium green leaves typically reach three to five feet tall. From mid- or late summer into fall, distinctive, rounded, deep pink buds open into bright pink flowers. ‘Bethellii’ has vivid fuchsia-pink flowers on 4- to 6-foot-tall stems. Perennial in USDA Zones 8 to 11.
S. leucantha (Mexican bush sage). Upright, three- to five-foot-tall clumps of slender, grayish green leaves that are fuzzy underneath. This late bloomer produces flower spikes from early or midfall to frost, with purple or white blossoms that have fuzzy purple bases. ‘Santa Barbara’ is only two feet tall. Evergreen subshrub in USDA Zone 10 and south.
S. madrensis (forsythia sage). This giant-sized sage stretches up to 8 to 10 feet tall in warm climates; in cooler areas, the thick stems can reach five to six feet tall by the end of the growing season. Distinctive for its long spikes of bright yellow blooms from mid- to late fall over heart-shaped green leaves. 'Red Neck Girl' also offers deep red stems. Perennial in USDA Zones 7 to 11.
S. uliginosa (bog sage). Four- to six-foot-tall stems carry light green leaves and are topped with spikes of true blue flowers from late summer well into fall. Unlike most other sages, this species can thrive in moist or even wet soil, although it also grows well (and spreads less vigorously) in average, well-drained soil. Perennial in USDA Zones 6 to 11.